Fall 2009 Issue

Trials and Jubilations

Barry Law School celebrates 10 years of making an impact on the legal profession

By Jeremy Jones

It was a risk; applauded by some, questioned by others. But a decade later, Barry University’s decision to purchase a little-known law school in Orlando, Florida, is paying off as the school continues to make a name for itself throughout the legal profession. On November 20, the Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law celebrated its 10th anniversary.

A lot has changed at the school over the past decade: full accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA); record enrollment; nationally recognized trial and moot court teams; and top-notch faculty that rival any law school. While the past 10 years seem to have passed quickly, the success of Barry’s Law School has been a work in progress, and one that has been well worth the effort.

“The law school has certainly grown in many positive directions since its inception,” says Barry Law School Dean Leticia Diaz, who has been with the school even before Barry purchased it in 1999 when it was known as the University of Orlando School of Law. “We have a plethora of new programs, and faculty and staff that underscores where Barry Law School is today. These factors, mixed with the talented number of students who have graduated from this university, has really propelled us into an exceptional league among law schools in the country.”

Getting to that point didn’t come easy; just ask anyone involved with the school for the past decade. Or, one could go straight to the source – the visionary behind the law school, Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, OP, PhD, former president of Barry University and now chancellor.

It was Sister Jeanne’s decision to purchase the University of Orlando School of Law in 1999. For her, the motivation was more than just acquiring a law school; it was directly tied to the opportunity for women to have a chance in a profession that for years had been primarily dominated by men.

“I really felt it was at a time when it was difficult for women to get into law school. I always dreamed women could have and found a law school,” Sister Jeanne said. “I thought, why not? Seems to me it was meant to be, but it was a long and hard journey.”

Sister Jeanne knew acquiring a law school and maintaining it wouldn’t be easy, but she also admits that she didn’t realize it would be as difficult as it was. But looking back on all the obstacles the school had to face to get to where it is today, like first obtaining partial accreditation and then full accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA), she sums up the question of whether she would do it all again by saying “you better believe it.”

One of reasons the law school is able to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Sister Jeanne says, is the students who stuck with the school through the hard times. Those who have graduated from Barry Law School, she says, have something special - competency and compassion - two traits that are vital for any lawyer.

Peggy Senentz ’03 can attest to the truth of that statement. Six years after graduating from Barry Law School, Senentz is the co-founder of the Clarie Law Office in South Pasadena, Florida, a suburb just outside St. Petersburg. Her firm specializes in estate planning, adoption and probate litigation. A former full-time college professor, Senentz says she was drawn to Barry because it was founded by women.

“You could see the success coming at Barry. It was an interesting time and a very exciting time,” said Senentz. “You really felt the support of the Barry leadership there, even from the Miami aspect of it.”

One of Senentz’s fondest memories of that support is when Barry officials from the Miami Shores campus planted several palm trees on the law school campus. For Senentz and others at the school, it was a gesture that sent a message: “You are a part of our family.”

That family has grown tremendously in 10 years. When Barry bought the school in 1999, there were 311 students; today there are 753. The school now has 32 faculty compared with 11 in 1999; and the class offerings have increased from 58 to 165. The growth, however, does not end there. The school is home to national championship trial and moot court teams, a nationally recognized VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program, the first of its kind Juvenile Justice Center, the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, a new immigration clinic and countless community service projects including one that aided New Orleans residents affected by Hurricane Katrina.

“I saw a complete turnaround in attitude when Barry took over in 1999,” said Frank Schiavo, who serves as associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of law. “The future is very bright, and it is a wonder to me how quickly the school’s reputation has grown throughout the community and the profession.”

Schiavo, who has been with the school since 1995, says program expansion has really taken off in the area of skills courses, which prepare students for the actual practice of law. He adds that the students’ advocacy skills are first class – a result of the quality faculty the school is attracting.

But none of this came without faith, says Sister Peggy Albert, OP, PhD, who, along with Barry President Sister Linda Bevilacqua, OP, PhD, was instrumental in helping the law school obtain accreditation from the ABA. Albert, now the president of Sienna Heights College in Adrian, Michigan, served as vice president at Barry during the law school’s push to full accreditation. She, like many others, was with the school from the very beginning and worked diligently to ensure its success, a task she refers to as the most difficult thing she’s ever done professionally.

“The law school has a very strong foundation, because it was built on blood, sweat and tears,” Albert said. “We were able to benefit from the difficult time we had and, as a result, the questions have been put to rest and the school is thriving.”

The goal is to keep the law school thriving well into the future. To do that, Diaz says she is focusing on continually recruiting nationally competitive faculty, developing a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program for alumni, lawyers and judges, the future expansion of the law school facilities and membership into the Association of American Law Schools.

A look toward the future is always accompanied by a look back at the past. What helped the school become successful was the clear mission it had from the beginning, says Barry University President Sister Linda Bevilacqua, OP, PhD. The support from within helped keep the school going, but Barry is also grafteful for the support it received from the local legal profession.

The Barry University community rejoices in the 10th anniversary of the Andreas School of Law and takes great pride in celebrating its outstanding successes,” says Bevilacqua. “The school’s distinctive mission and the dedicated faculty have shaped a program of legal education that prepares competent, compassionate and ethical attorneys. I am very grateful to the members of the ‘Bench and the Bar’ who encouraged us in our infancy and remain our loyal supporters and advocates. With our law alumni, students, faculty and staff, we envision a future of greater prominence.”

As the school moves into the future, it will need the support of its alums to continue its pattern of success, says Senentz. “It is vital that we contribute and continue to support our law school. It feels good to give back, and this school is a gem in our community.”